HOUSE REPUBLICAN ON MEDICARE PLAN: ‘THINGS ARE UNRAVELING’…. Three weeks ago today, House Republicans approved their radical budget plan, which included, among other things, a measure to eliminate Medicare and replace it with a privatized voucher scheme. After the vote, GOP officials were all smiles, confident they’d made the right move.

As of this morning, the party’s leadership is retreating. Over the course of 24 hours, Speaker John Boehner, Majority Leader Eric Cantor, and Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp all backed away from the Medicare privatization scheme. Rank-and-filed Republicans, who apparently weren’t told this was coming, were left dazed and confused.

“It is a big problem,” one GOP aide said. “Things are unraveling.”

Indeed, in the first round of White House budget talks, overseen by Vice President Biden, Cantor outlined his party’s vision on the budget, but largely ignored the Medicare plan. “He didn’t need to talk about it in that room,” said one participant. “Everyone knows it’s dead.”

At this point, the folks to keep an eye on are the vulnerable House Republicans who voted for their party’s radical budget plan, knowing full well it wouldn’t pass the Senate.

Some members — especially freshmen from districts with steep re-election hills to scale — were upset to hear that the plan could be scotched after they had voted for the budget proposal and then invested so much hard work trying to sell it back home over the spring recess.

Right. These lawmakers stuck their necks out, and then returned home to angry constituents, trying to sell their party’s agenda. Four days after going back to work, they learn that their leaders — the ones who demanded they vote for the right-wing agenda — are giving up on the most contentious idea. It’s the sort of thing that’s likely to breed intra-party resentments.

As for the leadership, Atrios asked a good question yesterday: “What were they thinking?”

That’s not a rhetorical question. Boehner, Cantor, & Co. knew the risks and knew Dems were unlikely to give in on Medicare. So why force their own caucus to put their careers and majority on the line?

Jonathan Bernstein outlined three possibilities: (1) GOP lawmakers are afraid of primary challengers; (2) they’re so stuck in epistemic closure that they thought their plan would be popular; (3) they’re just incompetent and didn’t realize what they were doing.

Without access to the internal deliberations, it’s obviously hard to say with certainty, but I’m going with Door #2. Republicans boasted for months that they’re following the will of “the American people,” convinced they earned a mandate in November to shred the social contract. Since they only interact with people who agree with them, GOP officials actually started to believe their own spin.

As of yesterday, it seems the leadership woke up.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.